Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White is a slightly unusual book. It's the fourth book in a series, the previous three books of which were published in the 1980s. This installment is set in modern times, yet picks up three months after the last book. So there's a bit of a disconnect. The publisher will be reissuing updated versions of the first three books in the spring, however, and then all will be well. But if you don't want spoilers for those previous books, then don't read any further.
Long May She Reign begins three months after Meghan Powers, daughter of the first female US President, has survived being kidnapped by terrorists. She's scarred, physically and emotionally, and has suffered permanent injury to her right hand and her left knee. She feels weak, she tires easily, she has nightmares, and she misses skiing and tennis desperately. She's broken up with her one-time high school boyfriend, and she spends most of her time in her bedroom in the White House, napping. Her brother Steven is a bit of a wreck, too, beyond a typical moody adolescent, and her parents are barely speaking to one another. Realizing that she has to move on, even though she's not ready, Meg prepares to take her delayed spot at Williams College, where she finds challenges, friendships, and romance.
This is an intimidatingly long book, more than 700 dense pages, but it reads quickly. It's filled with details about White House life, politics, college life, and the Boston Red Sox. The relationships between the Powers family members are dissected, and conveyed in such depth that the reader feels like a clandestine observer. Even the minor characters are three-dimensional - White takes the time to flesh out each one, and the reader benefits. Although much of the subject matter is grim (flashbacks to Meg's experiences with the terrorists, run-ins with the media, etc), regular flashes of humor keep things from becoming too dark.
Meg's memories of her kidnapping experience unfold gradually throughout the story. For the most part, this makes the book able to stand alone. I hadn't read the first three books in the series, and have a pretty clear picture of what happened nevertheless. However, I did find myself aware that I was missing things. The references to Megan's former boyfriend, Josh and what he's up to now didn't really stand up for someone who hadn't read about Josh before. And I couldn't figure out whether all of the memories of the kidnapping were things that had been described in the first book, or whether some of it was new information. Would these sections have dragged, for someone who just read the previous book? I don't know. This whole aspect of not having read the first three books certainly didn't ruin this one for me, but it did take away from the experience. If I were you, I would seriously consider waiting for the re-issues to come out of the first three books, and then reading the series in order.
One thing that did charm me about Long May She Reign was the authenticity of Meg's experience as a Red Sox fan. Anyone can mention that a character is a sports fan, and throw in occasional references to the character wearing a baseball cap. But Meg Powers IS a Red Sox fan. She lives and breathes the sport. She can't admit to her new boyfriend that, yes, she does try to watch all of the games. She thinks about world events in reference to what would have happened if Grady Little had taken out Pedro Martinez. And she has that Red Sox superstition, which only true fans can really understand. Here's my favorite part, in which Meg spills coffee on her sweatshirt on Opening Day:
"-- and since it was Opening Day, she was just superstitious enough to wonder whether it was a bad omen for the entire season, and whether she had inadvertently doomed the Red Sox to a season of mediocrity." (Page 551)
Yes, rest of the world, that is the way Red Sox fans think. I could come up with tons of other quotes, but you get the idea. This isn't lip service to fandom, this is a deep-seated character trait.
The other thing that really impressed me about this book was the way that White is able to keep the reader identifying with Meg, even though Meg is tired and sick and bitter and angry and not eating enough. You don't pity her - she's too brave for that - and while you might occasionally want to shake her out of her own self-absorption, you still don't hold it against her. Or at least I didn't. I guess it's Meg's occasional humor, her deadpan delivery, and her complete inability to think of herself as brave that make her so likable. And perhaps the supporting characters who you can see love her.
One other aspect that I noticed about this book is how consistently, though quietly, Ellen Emerson White promotes the strength of women. A woman is the President -that's the big one, of course. But the more capable RA in Meg's dorm is also a woman. At a ceremony honoring heroes, those recognized include a female security guard and a female police officer. And as a woman, Meg is fairly direct in her sexuality, too (this is not a book for young kids, by the way).
But I think the real truth about why I liked this book is that I just enjoy Ellen Emerson White's writing. Here's a little passage, after a slightly awkward social exchange:
"They all stood there. It lacked congeniality." (Page335)
I love that. "It lacked congeniality." Talk about understated genius. Another aspect I found funny is that a certain character is nicknamed "Malibu Bobby". Meg has to say that aloud, with a Boston accent, to appreciate the humor (for those of you unfamiliar with Boston accents, it's going to sound like Malibu Barbie).
So what we have is a complex and intriguing plot, with day to day struggles, flashbacks to larger than life events, wholly three-dimensional characters, romance, and ironic humor. What more can anyone ask of a young adult novel? Well, Red Sox references, of course, but I think that even non-fans will still enjoy Long May She Reign. Highly recommended, especially for high school and college age readers, and for political and White House junkies.
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: October 2007
Source of Book: Bought it, signed, at NCTE
Other Blog Reviews: The YA YAs, Lady Librarian, cornerbooks, Tandem Insights, Angieville
Author Interviews: Tea Cozy (Thanks for the recommendation, Liz!)
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.